After I graduated in 2010, I took an entry-level advertising sales assistant job at a well-known print magazine. For the next six years, I spent time bouncing from magazine to magazine across sales, marketing, and editorial, desperately trying to find my niche in order to rise the ranks.
Turns out, my niche is at home. For the last two years, I’ve worked for myself as an editorial and brand partnerships consultant for a variety of media companies. This position combines all of those jack-of-all-trades job functions into one lucrative role.
I used to dread going to the office, and now I love my career. Self-discovery and revelations aside, there’s a roadmap to do it all right.
Here’s what I wish I knew on Day One:
1. Everyone thinks you’re at home watching daytime TV
Admittedly, my first day working from home was a little bit terrifying. My first concern was how I would build out my home cubicle environment. What were the rules? Could I turn on the TV? Was it legal? Who would stop me?
I realized I was my own boss, and I could do what works for me. I flop between daytime talk shows (no judgment please) and CNN, with the intermittent episode of whatever HGTV show happens to be on.
The background noise keeps me from going stir crazy, but it also helps me feel like I’m not living in a bubble.
2. No one thinks you’re ever busy
Can you pick up a gift for me? Can you grab my dry cleaning? Do you mind taking care of dinner? I often receive these kinds of texts from friends and family. I usually say yes. Why? Not because I’m a pushover, but because I sometimes feel guilty that I have created a position where I’m my own boss and have my own freedom and schedule. There’s no one tying me to my desk or giving me a look when I take a long lunch or walk out 10 minutes before 5 p.m.
Even though it may be easier to do so, I’ve learned you can’t always say yes. The only person I’m hurting is myself — by losing my potential income for that hour of work. Although I have significantly more freedom now than I did at my desk job, it still doesn’t mean that I’m not busy. In fact, I’m busier than I ever have been. Sometimes you have to say no, and that’s OK. They’ll (hopefully) understand.
3. You have to set a schedule
My first months freelancing, I thought I’d never get off the ground. I was increasingly worried about my income, and though my supportive husband helped us figure out a way to get by in the meantime, it was still so challenging. I told myself I’d work traditional work hours. I would start my day at 9 a.m. and stop only when my husband came home for the evening. Sometimes that was 6 p.m., but more often it was 9 p.m.
I must have sent off hundreds of emails, which created a runway for me to really get things going. Turns out that regimented schedule really worked at the beginning, but it wasn’t sustainable. These days, I typically work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., which I find is my most productive part of the day. But, do you. Set your schedule.
4. The key to more free time is working more efficiently
At my desk job, about 50% of my time was spent gallivanting and avoiding work. There were multiple coffee runs, a long lunch, and during the time I actually spent at my desk, not much work really got done.
Maybe because the woman next to me was munching on popcorn too loud, the guy across from me was tapping profusely, and the new hire was listening to their headphones just loud enough so you could hear the bass. All of these things chipped away at my patience, productivity, and sanity.
I might wake up later now, and maybe I’ll stop earlier, but in the time I’m working, I’m extremely motivated to do my job. I know that if I get my work done, I’m free later to enjoy the rest of my day. I don’t just get to walk away without finishing it. Being freelance also helps keep me focused. That kind of “you eat what you kill” mantra really applies. No work-y? No money.
5. Designate a workspace
The couch is not an office. I started working from our dining table, and while it served the purpose, it didn’t make me feel like I was working. It was too casual, and it wasn’t making me disciplined enough.
I ordered a $60 desk on Amazon and set myself up for success in the corner of our 800-square-foot apartment. I carved out a little nook that would become my office, and it totally worked.
That said, there are times when sweatpants and the couch totally suffice as a workday. Like when everyone else has a snow day, but your “office” isn’t closed.
6. Make sure to leave the house
A friend of mine used to work from home and is really adamant that I leave the house. Whenever we see him, his first question is always, “Did you leave the apartment this week?” I feel really awkward when my response is no.
It’s fine if things are crazy and you can’t leave every day, but try and make it happen as best you can. Even if you just go around the corner to the coffee shop or take a walk around the block.
7. Interact with humans
My first couple months working from home was spent writing, so I had limited interaction with other people. My husband would come home and I would chew his ear off about anything and everything. He told me I needed to talk to humans during the day.
My current role has me on sales calls several times a week, and I have a standing call with my boss where I definitely talk more than I should. Every profession is different, so even if your job requires little human contact, try and find a way to fit it in.
Whether it’s connecting with a co-worker over the phone, finding a volunteer opportunity during lunch or after work, or just going to the local store and chatting up the guy in aisle 6 rearranging the canned goods, talk to someone so you don’t become a hermit.
8. It’s amazing how much you accomplish when you take out work drama
I never enjoyed the office. I hated the politics, had trouble being fake to coworkers I disliked, and frankly, there were just too many unnecessary hour-long meetings that kept me from being productive. Without those factors, my days are spent working fruitfully. It’s also much less overwhelming when Sally isn’t peeking her head over the cubicle asking you if you have time for a quick meeting all the time.
9. Don’t be afraid to take a pay cut, because you’ll save on expenses
When I decided to work from home, I had just turned down a really good job offer that was a major salary increase from my last job. It was a tough decision, but I knew having my freedom and dedicating myself to work I love was going to yield far better results down the road. My salary has now reached the level of that job offer, but it took a few years. That said, I’ve still come out ahead because of the amount of money I save on transportation, food, and clothing.
Before I started working from home, I got into the habit of taking taxis, Ubers, and Vias to work, due to my profound dislike of public transportation. I also routinely overspent on the aforementioned coffee runs and lunches.
The cost of my required transportation is pretty limited now, and those expensive must-get-to-work Uber rides have fallen off. Food and beverage are a fraction of the cost, since I make good use of being at home. Plus, I wear what’s already in my closet since no one at my home office is paying attention to my outfits. These things have made a significant difference in my net income.
10. Get dressed every day
This might sound obvious, but it’s so easy to get out of bed, roll to the couch, and start the workday. All the sudden, “Ellen” is on, and I’m still in my sweatpants looking like it’s a lazy Saturday. Except it’s Tuesday. And while this does happen on occasion, my most productive days are the ones when I dress for success. You don’t have to go crazy, but upgrading from pajamas will totally shift your mindset.